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Over 13 years playing Dwarf Fortress, I've seen my share of legends. I've witnessed one-armed dwarven generals strangle dragons as old as time. I've watched in horror as an artisan emerged from months trapped in the caves below my fortress halls, clinging to life just long enough to craft one last work: a puzzlebox of obsidian and bone. Now, I get to see Dwarf Fortress arrive on Steam, the colony sim's emergent storytelling more approachable than it's ever been but only just.


The ever-evolving life's work of brother developers Tarn and Zach Adams, Dwarf Fortress is entering a new age, shedding its text-based graphics for proper pixels and the basic modernity of native mouse support. Still inscrutable, still magnificent, Dwarf Fortress remains an incomparable treasure trove of procedural mythmaking for those willing to delve its depths.

Striking the earth

At its most basic level, Dwarf Fortress is a settlement sim. With a small group of dwarves, you embark from the Mountainhomes to stake your claim on a plot of distant wilderness. It's up to you to establish a fortress capable of lasting the ages, from the ground up—or down, in the typical dwarven fashion. Winter is only months away. Start digging.


Meanwhile, your livestock are brawling because you put them in too small a pasture, your lone huntsdwarf is being chased home in a panic after antagonizing a giant capybara with their last crossbow bolt, and your best farmer's in a depressive spiral over your dining hall's lack of chairs. And that's all before your first goblin siege

Leaving that delicate balancing act of fortress management aside, the Steam release's most obvious changes are visual. Until now, Dwarf Fortress has been an ASCII-based enterprise, requiring mods for any imagery more engaging than a letter "D" facing you in martial combat. 

You're responsible for every component of your fledgling dwarven society, and there are a hell of a lot of components.

Dwarf Fortress now boasts its own lovely tile-based graphics. They're charming enough to look at, your dwarves' physical features realized in sprites. The visual overhaul joins an expanded soundtrack, which moves between the gruff warmth of dwarven work songs, plaintive acoustic plucking, and haunting atmospherics. It nails the vibe sometimes whimsical, sometimes punishing, often doomed.

In terms of playability, the biggest changes involve the interface and controls. Limited before to keyboard input, Dwarf Fortress now has native mouse support. Clicking to designate/interact with/inspect things is a much-needed and welcome change, but the new UI struggles to accommodate every aspect of this bottomless game.

Hard-won wealth
Dwarf Fortress's daunting reputation is not unearned. In building and managing your new mountainhome, the game does very little work for you. It's just you, a bunch of menus, and whatever ragged scrap of self-preservation instinct your dwarves can muster.


The Den Win GIF by MillwallFC

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